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News Roundup: Indiana, Monkeys and J-Lo

A roundup of the week’s tech news including Project Ara, YouTube Kids and coffee & cook books

Indiana

Good news this week after Arkansas and Indiana revised their controversial religious freedom acts. “In the midst of this furious debate, I have prayed earnestly for wisdom and compassion, and I have felt the prayers of people across this state and across this nation,” Indiana Governor Mike Pence said in a statement. Normal service was resumed pretty quickly, sponsors returned to planned tech conferences, and Salesforce ended its boycott of the state. The Human Rights Campaign’s open letter calling for protections for the LGBT community has seen another 30 or so leaders from the tech community join the cause; including Symantec, YouTube, Twilio, Google, Facebook and more, so hopefully other states will think twice before trying to go down the same road.

Coffee and cook books

Times are hard for the old technology companies. Businesses are changing and it can be hard to keep up, so SAP looked at Starbucks and thought, “We can do that.” The German software company has opened a coffee shop in downtown Palo Alto to serve cups of Joe to the nerds of Silicon Valley.  HanaHaus – named after the company’s HANA solution – features no SAP branding but will no doubt be full of the usual tech types. Perhaps it’s a subtle recruitment plan. Further shops are planned for Berlin, London and Shanghai.

SAP aren’t the only tech company getting into the food biz though. IBM’s Watson has been wearing its chef’s hat and written a cook book. Big Blue’s supercomputer has already created a BBQ sauce of its very own, and thanks to Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson you can now create your own versions of Creole Shrimp-Lamb Dumplings, Italian-Pumpkin Cheesecake, or Hoof-and-Honey Ale. At least when the machines take over we’ll be well-fed.

M&A

Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen is apparently “shocked” at “how little tech M&A there has been” of late. So here’s a list of a dozen or recent M&A deals & rumours to calm him down.

In the social space, LinkedIn has acquired ed-tech company Lynda.com and social info startup Refresh, Pinterest has bought publishing startup Hike Labs, and Twitter has purchased data services company TenXer.

TechCrunch reports Apple has snapped up both keyboard app Dryft and search startup Ottocat, IBM has bought “certain technology” from search startup Blekko Inc, Cisco has “announced intent” to acquire lifecycle management platform and Cisco alumni Embrane, and Salesforce has snapped up mobile authentication firm Toopher.

Elsewhere, 3D printing company 3D Systems has acquired Chinese 3D printing company Easyway, Singtel has forked out for US security firm Trustwave, InfoVista has bought Ipanema Technologies, and Informatica has gone private in a $5.3 billion buyout (something its founder Guarav Dhillon isn’t too happy about). Intel was reported to be in talks with semiconductor company Altera for months over a possible acquisition, but “sources” say the discussions have broken down after failure to agree a price.

In the rumours section, Groupon is apparently interested in flogging Breadcrumb (its checkout software business), Amazon is supposed to be after Net-a-Porter (which it denies), while Google is reportedly looking to buy Twitter.

YouTube Kids, Android, Ara and J-Lo

So Microsoft want a seamless Windows experience to run across all devices? Well Google can play at that game. The search giant has just released a tool that allows Android apps to run on any machine through its Chrome browser.

We also got a bit more insight into Project Ara this week. Turns out Toshiba – one of the companies creating modules for the modular phone – is one of the main drivers behind the project. In an interview with Bloomberg, Takeshi Oto, a senior fellow at Toshiba’s logic chip division, revealed that his company is behind the switch & bridge chips used in the new device, and Google has exclusive rights. Which means if Google strike it rich with Ara, so does Toshiba.

It turns out we all owe Jennifer Lopez a debt of gratitude; it’s because of that green dress she wore to some awards show once that Google Image search exists. “People wanted more than just text, this first became apparent after the 2000 Grammy Awards, where Jennifer Lopez wore a green dress that, well, caught the world’s attention,” Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt wrote in Project Syndicate. “At the time, it was the most popular search query we had ever seen. But we had no sure-fire way of getting users exactly what they wanted: J­Lo wearing that dress. Google Image Search was born.”

YouTube Kids: a nice app that keeps kids safe but entertained, right? Wrong. Various children’s watchdog groups have joined together to file a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), saying that Google’s app is “mixing entertainment and advertising in ways that have already been ruled unfair and deceptive to children.” Google rejected that claims, saying: “We worked with numerous partners and child advocacy groups when developing YouTube Kids… We were not contacted directly by the signers of this letter and strongly disagree with their contentions, including the suggestion that no free, ad-supported experience for kids will ever be acceptable. We disagree and think that great content shouldn’t be reserved for only those families who can afford it.”

Amazon drones

This week we at IDG Connect told you about North America’s first Drone Airport. Despite this week being given approval to test its latest drone models in the US, eCommerce giant Amazon revealed it’s been developing its delivery UAVs over the border in Canada. The Guardian was allowed to visit the secret British Columbia site and revealed the development team features former NASA astronauts and Boeing 787 designers.

Dropbox docs

In the same week that Adobe announced a Dropbox-like product for its services, Dropbox might be launching a new service to take on Google Docs. A new service called Composer – currently blocked for all users - has reportedly popped up on Product Hunt that reportedly combines document creation and collaboration.

Tech-Prez

It’s almost certainly going to be a clash between Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, but that hasn’t stopped a host of other candidates vying to at least try and be the next President of the United States. Rand Paul has thrown his hat into the ring and is reportedly trying to woo the Right-leaning and Libertarian masses within the tech community, while former HP CEO Carly Fiorina has said that chances of her running were “higher than 90%” despite not realistically being in the running.

Verbatim

Rule number one for any situation: don’t bring Nazis or Hitler into the debate. However, Leshi TV CEO, Jia Yueting, temporarily forgot this after posting an image to Weibo depicting a cartoon Hitler wearing an Apple-logo armband. Trying to stir up controversy just before you release your own Android handsets isn’t cool.

Elon Musk – owner of the world’s most famous electric car company – shockingly isn’t a fan of non-renewable power. “If we don't find a solution to burning oil for transport, when we then run out of oil, the economy will collapse and society will come to an end,” he told Neil deGrasse Tyson. “If we know we have to get off oil no matter what, we know that is an inescapable outcome, why run this crazy experiment of changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere and oceans by adding enormous amounts of CO2 that have been buried since the Precambrian Era? That's crazy. That's the dumbest experiment in history, by far.”

How big does Salesforce.com want to be? THIS BIG. Or, more accurately, bigger than native software giant (and coffee shop chain) SAP. “We want to become the biggest software company in Germany by sales,” the company’s Euro chief Joachim Schreiner a German magazine. That’s a bold claim.

Could wearable technology be as harmful as cigarettes? Probably not, no. But that didn’t stop NYT writer Nick Bilton claiming so, much to the ire of many a reader. Filled with all manner of pseudoscience and scaremonger, the piece drew a lot of angry comments and rebuttals [more here, here and here – and of course the one post with too many exclamation marks that agrees], and eventually the title of the post was changed, a large correction and editor’s note was added, and then the NYT’s Public Editor Margaret Sullivan wrote a follow up basically trying to say sorry.

Pete Thiel isn’t a fan of the government. “It’s not clear we’re living in anything resembling a democracy,” the noted Libertarian said while speaking at George Mason University. “Calling our society a democracy is very misleading. We’re not a republic; we’re not a constitutional republic. We live in a state that’s dominated by these technocratic agencies.”

You’d think that Peter Sunde, co-founder of the Pirate Bay, would be a fan of the world’s Pirate Parties. Apparently not. “I for one don’t give a flying fuck. I don’t care if the ‘pirate movement’ lives, exists or whatever. I only care about the causes,” he wrote in a piece for Torrent Freak, “Not even Johnny Depp can make pirates look cool – and he manages to make cocaine-dealers look awesome.”

Satya Nadella’s Microsoft has been far more open to Linux and the FOSS community, but could Windows ever become Open Source? “It’s definitely possible,” says Microsoft Technical Fellow Mark Russinovich. “It’s a new Microsoft.” As PC World points out though, don’t hold your breath.

The public Cloud space is huge, but also ruled over by a few giants. And HP isn’t one of them. “We thought people would rent or buy computing from us,” Bill Hilf, Head of HP’s Cloud business, told the NYT. “It turns out that it makes no sense for us to go head-to-head [with Amazon, Google or Microsoft].” An email to VentureBeat refuted the idea that the company was leaving the public Cloud market, and even claimed it was leading the OpenStack market.

And finally, is the Bitcoin Foundation ruined beyond repair? The group, founded to bring some order and stability to a generally anarchic concept and community, has been labelled “effectively bankrupt” by Olivier Janssens, a newly elected board member. As a result of “2 years of ridiculous spending and poorly thought out decisions,” he wrote in a blog post on the site, “they almost ran out of money in November of last year.” He ends the post by claiming the lesson from all this is “to never put any trust in a centralized org again that wanted to represent Bitcoin or the Core Development of Bitcoin.”

NSA

The usual dose of NSA-related headlines.

-          GCHQ has been intercepting Yahoo! webcam images (3-11% were considered “explicit”).

-          The DEA has also been monitoring overseas phone calls for a long time.

-          Jon Oliver interviewed Ed Snowden on why people should care about all this spying.

-          There’s a useful website that helps put NSA surveillance into context over whether they can see your genitalia pictures.

-          Rand Paul says that, “On Day One I will immediately end this unconstitutional surveillance.” 

-          MPs think it’s funny to threaten people with metadata probes.

-          UK people seem to actually have started caring about privacy.

-          Someone put a bust of Ed Snowden in a park in New York, then it was removed, then someone put a holographic one up there instead.

Snapchat and Kickstarter have both released transparency reports. The ephemeral messaging app saw 403 government requests for Snapchat user information [mostly from the US] and coughed up 92% of the time, but was less compliant with foreign governments. The crowdfunding platform meanwhile saw almost 300 copyright claims against its projects [technology was the second most cited category], rejecting just over half of them.

In a reversal of recent fortunes, the US has blocked Intel from selling its chips to Chinese supercomputer projects over worries that they are being used in nuclear tests.

Turkey has a sketchy history with internet freedoms, and once more stepped over the line this week after blocking Twitter and YouTube over pictures from a hostage situation from last week. The image is pretty alarming, but Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu labelled services that publish the photo as “tools of terrorist propaganda”. Facebook, Google and Twitter have all now removed the image.

Tiny computers, old computers

Moore’s law is boring. HD screens are old hat. It’s all about making crazy computers now. The University of Michigan has created a computer that’s just one millimeter cubed. The Michigan Micro Mote (M^3) comes equipped with all the Internet of Things features you could want and is tiny enough to be injected into the body if you wish.

Meanwhile the boffins over at DARPA are starting a project to create a computer system that can survive for 100 years. The Building Resources Adaptive Software Systems (BRASS) project wants to make a long-lived system that can survive any change in technology that is thrown its way.

Happiness

Are you happy? If you work in tech, probably. CareerBliss has just released a new report looking at the happiest careers in the US, and tech seems to be a particularly rewarding job. Oracle database administrator, Website developer, Senior software engineer and Systems developer all feature in the top ten.

Monkeys vs. internet

Sharks [unfortunately not ones with lasers on their heads] are a common threat to our internet, eating through undersea cables whenever the fancy takes them. But now our web access is coming under attack from a new animal source: Monkeys. Macaque monkeys in India are eating through fibre-optic cables in the Uttar Pradesh state. “We cannot move the temples from here. We cannot modify anything here, everything is built up. The monkeys, they destroy all the wires and eat all the wires,” communications engineer AP Srivastava told the Reuters.

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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